Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Restoring an Old Photo

By Kenneth C. Hoffman

While browsing through a box of photos handed down to you
from a relative, you come across a studio portrait of your great
grandfather and his family. The picture is in sepia tone, the edges
are tattered and there are deep scratches across the picture. To
make matters worse, someone folded the picture to fit into a small
box producing a crease across the center of the picture.

In spite of it’s faults, you would like to enlarge the picture and
frame it for your family gallery. With a photo editor, you and your
computer can make the photo like new. First scan the photo at
400 dpi resolution. Save the file as a .tif and scan again saving as
a .jpg file. Using the JPEG file to work with, choose the clone
tool to extend the corners and to remove any marks in the photo.
The clone size should be about twice as large as the blemish and
set to fifty per cent strength. Save your work after ten or so fixes,
more depending on your RAM memory.

There are three basic methods of fixing missing or damaged areas
in the photo. The source area of the clone tool is centered over an
area similar to the missing patch but undamaged. A fifty per cent
strength (eighty five per cent for skin) clone brush used in a tapping motion will replace the damaged area. A second method drags the
clone brush and source through the damaged area for replacement.
Finally, a third method involves masking out an undamaged area that
is identical to the damaged area, making it into an object and dragging
the object to the new location for a perfect fit. Some edge blending
may be necessary. Work at the highest magnification possible for an
invisible fix.

Most difficult are problems with the nose and eyes. If one eye is undamaged, it may be possible to make an object of the eye area, flip
it left for right and replace the damaged eye. Blend the edges and use
the smoothing brushes for a natural look. Do not sharpen the eyes
too much or they will look unnatural.

When satisfied with the retouching, open the histogram to stretch the contrast to a proper level. I recommend desaturating the image and using the color balance to simulate the original sepia tone. Some editors have a special sepia tool for this purpose. For enlarging more than
two hundred per cent, I recommend using PureImage or equivalent
software to reduce artifacts, smooth out the one tone areas and sharpen
the edges. Your efforts will be well appreciated, for after all, if it weren’t
for your ancestors, you wouldn’t be here.

A retired portrait photographer, not quite as old as some pictures.

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